Difference Between a Regular Drug Test and a DOT Drug Test

Many workers are familiar with the requirement of periodic drug testing as part of their job, but these tests have use across various industries and are sometimes required by law. While we commonly associate these tests with checking for driving under the influence, they serve other purposes and are reliable due to their accuracy. That said, there are slight differences between “regular” drug testing and a DOT drug test.

It’s crucial to grasp the guidelines involved in these tests and the factors that can influence their outcomes, especially if your livelihood, such as being a commercial truck driver, hinges on the results. At Fleet Drug Testing, we have all the solutions you need. From programs to locating convenient testing sites, we make sure you can keep moving forward. Contact us today to get started.

How Does Drug Testing Work?

Drug testing is a process that’s designed to detect the presence of certain substances in the body. While it’s typically prescribed under certain conditions, its use has been applied in several different settings, like:

  • Workplaces
  • Sports
  • Criminal justice
  • Healthcare
  • Schools and universities
  • Rehabilitation centers
  • Military and government
  • Legal cases

Regardless of the setting, there is a general procedure for collecting and analyzing a sample, then taking action based on results. Here’s a quick overview:

  • Sample collection – The first step is collecting a sample from the person. The most common samples are urine, blood, saliva, and hair. The choice of sample depends on the type of drugs being tested and the detection window required.

  • Transport and handling – Once collected, the sample is carefully labeled, sealed, and transported to a laboratory or testing facility. Chain of custody procedures are often followed to maintain the integrity of the sample and prevent tampering.

  • Sample analysis – In the laboratory, the sample undergoes analysis to detect the presence of specific drugs or their metabolites.

  • Confirmation testing – If the initial test indicates the presence of drugs, a confirmation test is typically conducted using a different method, such as gas chromatography-mass spectrometry (GC-MS) or liquid chromatography-mass spectrometry (LC-MS). Confirmation tests are more specific and can rule out false positives.

  • Results reporting – Once the testing is complete, the results are reported to the entity that requested the test, such as an employer or a healthcare provider. The results are usually categorized as positive (drugs detected) or negative (no drugs detected).

  • Interpretation and action – Depending on the results and the context of the testing, further actions may be taken. For example, a positive result in a workplace drug test may lead to disciplinary measures or further investigation.

While this is a generalized look at the drug testing process, the actual method and procedure differs depending on the setting. As it relates to truck drivers and other safety-sensitive employees in the transportation industry, the process is backed by the authority of the federal government–specifically the Department of Transportation (DOT). Thus, a DOT drug test is handled a bit differently.

Differences Between a DOT Drug Test and a Regular Drug Test

An easy way to look at the difference between a regular and DOT drug test is that a DOT drug test is more stringent. The reasons for this aren’t all that complicated–the DOT is responsible for making sure all road users are safe. In order to do that, they have a set procedure on who gets tested and when. Under federal law, a DOT drug test involves the following process:

  • Employers are responsible for informing their employees about testing procedures and protocols, including when and where the tests will occur.

  • At the testing site, a trained collector obtains a urine sample from the employee, ensuring proper labeling and sealing to prevent tampering.

  • The urine sample is divided into two containers: the primary and split specimens. The primary specimen is sent to a certified laboratory for testing, while the split specimen is retained at the collection site in case of a challenge to the test results.

  • The primary specimen undergoes analysis at a certified laboratory using an immunoassay test. If the result is positive, a confirmation test is conducted using gas chromatography/mass spectrometry (GC/MS).

  • Once results are available, a Medical Review Officer (MRO) reviews them and contacts the employee in the case of a positive result. The MRO also inquires about any prescription medications that might explain the positive result. If a valid medical explanation is provided, the MRO reports the result as negative.

  • Once the results are in, the MRO also notifies the employer of the test results. In the event of a positive result, the employee must be immediately removed from safety-sensitive duties. The employer may also have to report the positive result to the DOT.

  • Employees who test positive must undergo a substance abuse evaluation and participate in a follow-up testing program. They must achieve a negative result on a return-to-duty test before resuming safety-sensitive duties.

The DOT drug testing panel typically looks for five substances:

  • Marijuana/THC
  • Cocaine
  • Amphetamines (including methamphetamine and MDMA)
  • Opioids (such as codeine, heroin, and morphine)
  • Phencyclidine (PCP)

Not only do regulations lay out the procedure, it also sets the conditions under which a person is to be tested:

  • Pre-employment – Before a person is hired for a safety-sensitive role, they must undergo drug testing.

  • Post-accident – After a workplace accident involving a safety-sensitive employee, drug testing is required to determine if substances played a role in the incident.

  • Random testing – DOT mandates random drug testing throughout the year. Currently, the rates are set at 50% for drug testing and 10% for alcohol testing.

  • Return-to-duty – Employees who have previously tested positive for substances must complete a return-to-duty test with a negative result before resuming safety-sensitive duties.

  • Follow-up – Employees with a history of substance abuse may be subject to ongoing follow-up testing as part of their rehabilitation process.

As you can see, the main difference lies in the purpose and scope of the drug test. Regular drug tests are conducted by employers for various reasons and may vary in terms of the substances tested for, while DOT drug tests are mandatory for safety-sensitive positions in transportation industries and have standardized procedures and substances to be tested.

Fleet Drug Testing Can Help You

No matter the reason you have to submit to drug testing, Fleet Drug Testing has you covered. Our programs and services offer solutions when it comes to drug testing and making sure the results are accurately stored and reported. Whether you’re a truck driver or a company looking to streamline your drug testing program, we can help. To get started, contact us today.

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